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A New Definition of War

September 15, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now some overview thoughts on policy options and the road ahead. We get them from two columnists: Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek International; and Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation.


Mr. Zakaria, how do you interpret President Bush’s declaration today that, “we’re at war?”

FAREED ZAKARIA: Jim, it’s a, in some ways, very useful, rhetorical device, from some ways problematic. It’s useful because this is going to be a long, difficult and intense stress that requires a lot of sacrifices. And it’s going to involve a kind of sustained effort that is very much like a war. The problem is this is something like the war on drugs. That is a very different kind of war than a traditional state-to-state war with a nebulous enemy and one that is not going to be amenable to a simple solution, which a war implies. You defeat the enemy and the war is over. This is more likely to be an ongoing battle that perhaps will go on for a very long time, and we have to gird ourselves for that. So I think it’s not a bad way to formulate it, but I do have this concern that people are going to think that a war means that there will be a D-Day and there will be victory. And I think that there will be battles we will win but this is an ongoing process.

JIM LEHRER: Ms. Vanden Heuvel, if war is not the word, what is the proper word?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: The word is not war, Jim. It is perhaps struggle. It is campaign. But in this tragedy, if there is anything to look toward, it is the reengagement of America in the world with collective energy with other countries. War means the indiscriminate killing of civilians. There is much talk about civilization. America is a great country. Its character will be tested as to how it responds in this case. It must engage the political solutions. It must lead with the European Union, which today, for example, was very worried about the use of war by American politicians. It must speak to the role America has played in the world for the last decades and try to come to some understanding, even at this very difficult time, of why so many thousands of people around the world resent America, believe America has been an arrogant power. So I think that war is the wrong word. It feeds the worst instincts. Instead, there should be a national conversation and a reassessment about what our national security will be, and instead, much lower, low-scale intelligence, diplomatic, policing efforts would be far more successful than this talk of war, which inflames and does not deter both here and around the world.

JIM LEHRER: But what would you assay to somebody that — when more than 5,000 Americans are killed within a few hours, that’s more than has ever happened in the history of any other war?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: That is an extraordinary tragedy. It is an extraordinary tragedy. But history didn’t begin on September 11, and instead, we must look ahead toward the country we want to become in the future, not become a militaristic society. We must seek political solutions, diplomatic solutions, and we must understand, as I said, what led to this, what led to this fanaticism, this horror that led these people to crash into these buildings and destroy lives.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Jim, if I can…


JIM LEHRER: Hold on just a moment. Let me get Trudy Rubin in here first.


JIM LEHRER: Trudy Rubin, what word would you use? How would you describe what you think the United States and the American people should be preparing for now? Not war, what?

TRUDY RUBIN: The problem is that it is a war, but the language that we use to describe war is inadequate for the kind of war that it is. The reason that I say it is a war is because if Osama bin Laden is at the center of networks, as it seems likely that are involved with this, that committed this, if you look at the interviews he has given, at what he has said over the years while groups connected with him have carried out a series of outrages against the United States, which may have included the previous World Trade Center bombing, which definitely included the embassies in East Africa, his language is clear. He wants to drive the United States out of the Middle East. He wants to drive all Jews out of the Middle East. He wants t destroy the United States as a superpower, the way he reflects that the Soviet Union was destroyed in Afghanistan. He sees their defeat there as the precursor to the collapse of the Soviet Union. He has enormous ambitions. And for this reason, I think it is a war. And while I think that one needs to look at causal factors and the Middle East and so forth, even if the United States had godfathered a two-state solution in the Middle East, had supported democracy everywhere in the Middle East, I don’t think that would stop an Osama bin Laden. He had bigger ambitions. But the problem is that I think we need a new language, because this is a long protracted struggle, which will involve intelligence, which involves closing the net around him. So in this sense what I think is dangerous is to give the idea that any kind of quick military strike is the solution. I think military has to come after the alliances are strengthened; the intelligence networks are strengthened, all the countries around Afghanistan, including Pakistan, have gotten on board. And then you can think military, which will be complicated, but the American people have to be prepared for a long undertaking.

JIM LEHRER: Fareed Zakaria, how do you read the support the United States is getting from the rest of the world at this point?

FAREED ZAKARIA: It’s been incredibly encouraging, I think, and part of it is just the sheer depth of the tragedy, but a lot of it has been the fact that President Bush’s team has been very good about beginning a process of confrontation with them. The trick is right now, my understanding is we have been asking for very general support, and we have gotten public affirmations from every Islamic country in the world, every Arab country in the world, which is very important, with the exception of course of Saddam Hussein. But the next step is going to have to be presenting many of these countries with specific sets of demands. The most difficult of them of course are Pakistan and Afghanistan. But there will be other sets of demands that we will have to make of France and Germany and countries like that. And that’s when the rubber hits the road. It’s much easier to make a generalized expression of support, and what we need from many of these countries is coordinated police activity, cleaning up of safe houses that these terrorists use, the closing down of bank accounts, the seizure of assets and many, many arrests. And that… To get countries to do that for you is difficult. It’s not at all impossible, but that’s going to be the real test not the initial rhetorical support.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Katrina Vanden Heuvel, do you agree that that’s when the rubber is going to hit the road, is not so much the military part but how these nations cooperate diplomatically, intelligence, and in a law enforcement as well?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes, but there are different levels. I have to say again if you look at the reaction in Europe to this tragedy, already, though you see the concern on the part of German leaders, French leaders, British leaders about the use of language, about the calling for war in this country. They’re calling for the low-level police enforcement, interdiction, global enforcement. And they believe that that is what will be most effective. I think if we see massive military operations, we will not only see a new generation bred into violence and hatred around the world, which is so much a part of…

JIM LEHRER: But that’s…

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: But I think that the Europeans are worried that we will move quickly in a military massive retaliation fashion, as opposed to this low-level policing that may…

JIM LEHRER: I got you. But my question was: Do you think that the United States can get support for these low-level things that Fareed Zakharia just outlined in the intelligence area?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I think they could. But I think the trick is that the United States I think is seeking more when it could lead in a different direction as part of a collective alliance that would be both engaged in this enforcement activity, some of what Fareed has described, but again, seeking political resolution of some of these crises and finding a forum for grievances that could be aired and resolved and seeking changes in policies. All of this is hard to talk about a time of such crisis and tragedy, but that goes to the root of these problems in far more fundamental ways.



TRUDY RUBIN: I think that the United States needs to be involved, say in seeking solutions to crises, like in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without doubt. But that cannot deal with what is not only an immediate crisis, but threatens, if it is not dealt with properly, to emerge into new chapters of what we’ve just seen. We know that there are other groups on the ground. We know that there are sleepers in Europe. And so it seems to me that there are things that are imperative that must be done right now. And one of the most important things that I hope is going on in the administration is a total reassessment of the meaning of alliance. I know that the Europeans are gratified that we are looking to NATO again. We got the invocation of Article V, collective defense, and I think that we really need to work on alliances. We really need to look at quid pro quos for the kind of grand alliance against terrorism — for example, with Russia. Russia’s cooperation will be crucial in getting intelligence against bin Laden. And it would be crucial before we would do a strike. That involves rethinking the whole missile defense issue because if we’re going to have an ally, we need to have a give-and-take ally. The same with Pakistan — we could offer things and in return get cooperation, which will be quite dangerous and difficult, but vital if there’s going to be this kind of anti-terrorist alliance. So it involves rethinking a lot of policy issues.

JIM LEHRER: But Fareed Zakaria, what about Ms. Vanden Heuvel’s point that do all of that, but also try to explore what causes people to be willing to fly an airplane into the World Trade Center in the first place?

FAREED ZAKARIA: I think it’s a worthwhile intellectual issue. But I do think that it fundamentally misconstrues the problem. The problem, and Osama bin Laden’s problem and the radical political Islam’s problem with the United States is not what it does; it is what it is, the symbol of a modern, materialistic, capitalist, democratic civilization that is destroying this traditional way of life and destroying any hope for the essentially medieval way of life that is Osama bin Laden wants to bring back. He sees women not wearing veils and he blames the United States. He sees men watching television and he blames the United States. If we had solved the Israeli-Palestinian issue, he would have been even more upset because his only solution to the Middle East… Palestinian problem is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. His only solution to the problems in Saudi Arabia is to destroy and decimate the monarchy and to put in place a radical Islamic regime — similarly with Egypt. So…

JIM LEHRER: I hear you.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I agree with that, yes. I think that you have to look at the facts…

JIM LEHRER: We have to go.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I’m sorry t that.

JIM LEHRER: This discussion will go on and on and on. Thank you all three very much.